The Clash are the benchmark by which all politically-minded punk bands are measured. In their prime, the late Joe Strummer and the much shaggier Mick Jones could chat your head off for hours about everything from the hypocrisy of the US-funded Sandinistas to Western democracy’s endless consumerism to a subject as dusty as the Spanish Civil War. The Clash were just that way — a cool, ideologically sound unit of rebels that always had their eyes and ears in the right place. They were the Marlon Brando of the punk rock genre.
In the 10 years they existed, though, The Clash absorbed everything around them and more. Over six albums — yes, we’ll begrudgingly count 1985’s abysmal Cut the Crap — the UK outfit tinkered with punk, reggae, dub, funk, and rockabilly. And about 96% of the time they were successful in each of their reinventions, a hallmark that crowned them “The Only Band That Matters.” Even today, over 25 years after they packed it up, they continue to influence a handful of scenes and genres.
This week’s release of their new career-spanning boxset, Sound System, has us revisiting everything from 1978’s oft-forgotten Give ‘Em Enough Rope to 1982’s addicting Combat Rock. In light of this brief nostalgic spell, we rounded up what we feel are The Clash’s 20 essential tracks from their catalogue and even ranked ’em. It may have been the hardest thing we’ve ever had to decide on.